Michael Sheen as Bill, Niecy Nash as Louise.
Throughout Master of Sex’s first three seasons, Bill and Virginia spent their time hiding in plain sight. But in “Inventory,” it’s clear that people finally see Bill and Gini for who they are, and they’re willing to call them on it. Then again, maybe those lies were transparent all along, and everyone was just too polite to say anything. At any rate, many of the jigs are up.
For starters, Gini and Dan were never married (did we discover this last week? If so, I somehow missed it), and Gini’s daughter, Tessa, knows the truth. I’m a bit dismayed to see Tessa back this season, and I maintain that this reimagining is unfair to the real Virginia Johnson, whose living descendants may very well have Showtime subscriptions. Setting that aside, I’m fascinated by the revelation that Tessa found out about all of this because Dan called her to say good-bye. Were Dan and Tessa ever close? Hell, were they ever in the same room together? To my recollection, they weren’t, and so the good-bye call seems like Dan trying to wage a little emotional warfare on Gini, rather than a sincere gesture toward Tessa. I’m loving the suspense the show has built around the end of Dan and Gini’s relationship, and I’m hoping we’re in for some juicy flashbacks soon. Regardless, Tessa’s so fed up that she leaves to stay with her father, a development I’m not particularly broken up about.
Betty also knows the truth about Dan and Gini, something she lets slip after Gini receives flowers “from Dan” at the office (delivered to her in front of Bill, at her explicit instruction). Betty recognizes the handwriting on the card as Gini’s own, and, in a monologue that’s arch in a way only Betty can be, perfectly calls Gini out. It’s early days and Bill and Gini are back at the clinic, but I’m loving this new Betty who isn’t just comic relief. Finally, she’s being acknowledged as the lifeblood of the clinic and the sole person of emotional intelligence who works there. To wit: When Bill and Gini discuss how to divide up the work of the clinic, Gini insists on installing recording equipment in all conference, consultation, and clinical rooms. What could possibly go wrong?
Meanwhile, Bill continues his AA meetings, and it’s clear from the title of the episode that these meetings are intended to be a tentpole for the season, rather than a one-off plot device in an episode or two. (The episode’s title, “Inventory,” refers to the fourth step of Alcoholics Anonymous: “[We] made a fearless and searching moral inventory of ourselves.”) The AA details as Masters of Sex presents them don’t seem to be particularly well-researched; rather than an in-depth look at what AA was like in the late 1960s, the show seems to be written from a more cursory knowledge of the program. There’s space for creative liberty, of course. I’m not expecting Masters of Sex to become a documentary about addiction and recovery. But for now, the AA story line only functions as a means to give Bill a Jiminy Cricket–style sidekick named Louise, who calls him on his crap in a series of stern but compassionate monologues. Niecy Nash portrays Louise warmly and convincingly, but it’s still not quite enough to sell me on what “Inventory” is trying to do. I’m already working hard enough to suspend disbelief around Bill’s supposed inability to buy a new suit or rent his own apartment.
Nevertheless, Bill’s AA participation does grant us the absolutely hilarious moment in which Bill announces to Libby, “I’ve been going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings” while fixing himself a drink from her bar. (And after barging in uninvited!) He then makes a clumsy attempt at making amends with Libby for the divorce, and for his affair with Gini. Libby takes a deep breath and, with no sympathy whatsoever, starts explaining her affairs in detail to Bill — both Robert and Paul, how passionate the sex was, and where it took place. Bill is genuinely shocked, which makes me feel even sorrier for Libby. How awful to have confirmation that Bill never saw her as more than his automatic, unquestioning support system and glorified housekeeper.
“I would suggest feeling sorry for yourself,” she tells Bill, and it’s thrilling for those of us who spent years watching him trample upon Libby’s agency. And it’s not clear how sincere Bill’s apology was, anyway — he may have just been trying to ingratiate himself with Libby so she’d encourage the children to spend time with him. (Johnny’s already made it clear that he wants nothing to do with a philanderer who sleeps in his office.) Serious question, though: Does Bill even like his children? Later, Bill barges in again to tell Libby that what she told him the night before was “very painful.” I immediately took a screenshot of Libby’s face in response to this revelation, and plan to get a lot of use out of it as a Twitter reaction. It’s that perfect:
Somewhere in midst of all of this, Libby visits her lawyer’s office and finds it in shambles after his secretary’s abrupt resignation. Ah, I thought to myself, soon, Libby will get a secretarial position. Forty-two minutes later, Libby gets a secretarial position. I understand the storytelling necessity here — putting Libby in Bill and Gini’s office building is an easy way to force them to interact — but I’m far more interested in Libby the Bra Burner than Libby the Newly Employed. We’ll see.
Back at the clinic, both Bill and Gini are looking for replacement partners — clinicians to work directly alongside, now that they’ve decided that they can no longer work together. Bill brings in a blonde Gini, essentially, which understandably gets under Gini’s skin, just as he’d intended. Gini asks Nancy, the prospective psychologist, to conduct a mock intake interview, using a beleaguered Betty and Lester as fake patients. “This isn’t a test!” she announces, about something that is clearly a test. She’s skeptical, but Bill brings her on, then immediately throws her into the treatment of Harry Crane. (Yes, he’s still Harry to me.) During last week’s episode, I somehow missed that he has less of a foot fetish and more of an interest in having sex with actual shoes. During his sensate therapy, Nancy excitedly grasps Bill’s arm. This leads him to announce that the two of them will need to discuss their full sexual histories with one another, you know, as one does on the first day of work with one’s boss. They get personal, but Bill fails to disclose his history with Gini.
And speaking of a complete and total lack of boundaries, Gini tries to recruit her former psychiatrist, Dr. Madden, as her office partner. He’s very appropriate at first, pretending not to recognize her, and throws away the business card she left him. But when they run into one another again, he drinks and gets sloppy, then tells Gini exactly what’s wrong with her: She has an almost pathological ability to rationalize dangerous, unhealthy behavior, both to her own detriment and the detriment of her loved ones. Gini takes him to bed, has sex with him, and then, as he sits sadly in his undershirt at the edge of the bed, parrots his words back to him. She’s right — he rationalizes, too — and seeing her call that out is both exhilarating and deeply, deeply sad. John Billingsley, who plays Dr. Madden, is just about perfect here.
And so Gini hires Art Dreesen instead, buoyed by Nancy’s recommendation. A new start to the work of the clinic, right? We see Nancy and Art pull up to the office for their first day together. Nancy insists they park several blocks away and walk in separately, but they quickly kiss before Art hops out of the car. Uh-oh: There’s an ongoing relationship here. Nancy certainly didn’t mention it during her extensive tell-all session with Bill, and so as all four clinicians sit down for their first staff meeting, it’s clear that some secrets are still quite secret. A staff of willful liars in an office that’s fully bugged? Yeah, I’ll watch that show.